The investigation team constituted by the home ministry, could not ascertain whether the police firing on retired army major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan at a check post in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, was a planned or spur-of-the-moment incident. The committee in its report also said this incident had them wondering whether the shots were fired out of self defence or whether there was any other mystery behind the scenes.
The killing of Sinha was an act of the police’s rash, reckless and unprofessional attitude. The lack of supervision and accountability had made them insensitive to such shooting.
The committee further said undue advantage was taken of legal provision for self-defence. It made 13 recommendations to prevent this.
Additional divisional commissioner (development) of Chattogram, Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, also the head of the committee, submitted the investigation report to home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Monday. Committee member lieutenant colonel SM Sazzad Hossain was with him that time.
Two other members of the committee were additional district magistrate of Cox’s Bazar Mohammad Shahjahan Ali and additional deputy IGP Zakir Hossain Khan.
Talking to newspersons after receiving the report, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said this was a matter of police investigation. The committee had done its duty. Now the secretary would analyse the report. The court would take later a decision regarding the matter.
The investigation report identified several incidents as suspicious, according to persons related to the investigation as well as law enforcement officials. The are suspicious incidents are – eight phone calls made by Nurul Amin of Marishbunia village to police inspector Liaqat, conducting a totally unprepared drive to detain robbers without verifying the information, opening fire for no specific reason, OC Pradeep arriving at the spot and assaulting the bullet-wounded Sinha, leaving injured Sinha lying there instead of rushing him to hospital, sending him to hospital by a truck, and filing yaba and murder charges against the killed Sinha.
What Happened Earlier
Retired army major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan, 36, was killed in police firing at Shamlapur police check post on Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar Marine Drive in Baharchhara union of Teknaf upazila in Cox’s Bazar around 9:30pm of 31 July. The check post in-charge, police inspector Liaqat Ali, fired the shots.
Police detained Shahedul Islam (Sifat) who was with Sinha at the time. Later the police raided Nilima Resort in Cox’s Bazar, where Sinha was staying, and detained two members of Sinha’s team – Shipra Debnath and Tahsin Rifat Noor - who were working on a travel documentary. The law enforcement members released Noor but sent Shipra and Sifat to jail. They were later released on bail.
Following the incident, Bangladesh army chief general Aziz Ahmed and police chief IGP Benazir Ahmed held a meeting with relevant persons in Cox’s Bazar on 5 August. Later, in a joint media conference, they called the firing 'an isolated incident'.
The committee, in the report, stated everyone said Sinha had raised his left hand but there was a confusion over the position of his right hand. Different people recounted the incident differently
On that very afternoon the chiefs of the two forces termed the incident as ‘isolated’, in Dhaka retired officers of Bangladesh Army held another media conference at the Retired Armed Forces Officers' Welfare Association, Bangladesh (RAOWA) Club. The RAOWA members threatened to take to the streets in demand of trial for the Sinha murder. Following this, statements were issued by the Bangladesh Police Service Association, an organisation of officials of BCS police cadre, Bangladesh Police Association, an organisation of the officers-in-charge of police stations, and Retired Police Officers’ Welfare Association.
Four lawsuits were filed in connection with the Sinha murder. Immediately after the incident, police filed three cases. Deceased Sinha was also made accused in those cases. A few days later, deceased Sinha’s elder sister Sharmin Shahriya Ferdous filed a murder case.
RAB was given the responsibility to investigate all the cases. The force arrested 10 members of the police force including suspended Teknaf police station OC Pradeep Kumar Das and Baharchhara police check post inspector Liaqat Ali, as well as three people of the village where Sinha went to film the documentary in the hills, before falling victim to police firing. Among the arrested, five policemen, excluding Pradeep, and three villagers gave confessional statements at the court. Four accused are still on remand while nine accused including Pradeep are in jail.
On 1 August, the home ministry constituted a committee, headed by additional divisional commissioner of Chattogram Mohammad Mizanur Rahman to investigate into the Sinha murder incident. The committee questioned 68 people. They conducted a lengthy interrogation of Pradeep Kumar Das and Liaqat Ali and visited the spot of the incident twice. The committee submitted its findings in a 586-page report to the home minister on Monday.
Committee Looked for Answers to 11 Questions
The committee began its investigation, seeking the answers to 11 questions including the source and reason of the incident. The committee wanted to know, on the basis of what information did inspector Liaqat Ali take position at Baharchhara check post. Did he verify the information? As the head of the outpost, did he seek assistance from any other agency or adopt appropriate security measures? Other than Sinha, was anyone else's life in danger at the spot? Was the firing only out of self-defence? Could they have not avoided the firing? Was it a planned incident? Did Sinha’s actions provoke the firing in any way? After the incident, did Liaqat inform the authorities of exactly what had happened? And what was the role of the senior officers after the firing?
The report said committee could not find clear answers to all the questions.
What the Committee Could Not Do
The committee, in the report, said that it did not get sufficient time for investigation. The time had been extended thrice. The committee said that a forensic examination of Sinha’s pistol could not be conducted as it had not been seized as per regulations.
The committee could not consult anyone experienced concerning discrepancies between Sinha's inquest and autopsy reports. It did not receive the CCTV footage of Teknaf police station either. The witnesses could not be questioned on time because RAB’s investigations were on. The committee could not properly analyse the Call Detail Record (CDR) of various persons involved with the incident as they were not technologically savvy in that regard. The committee was not even given the WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram call records.
Verifying the incidents of firing, the committee found out that there was no executive investigation of the most of the incidents. The committee doubted whether all the police laws were properly followed in some of the investigations that were done
Speaking to Prothom Alo, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said it is not possible to find out everything in such a short time. But such a report works as a guideline. Investigators also come under pressure.
He said the investigation of the incident was continuing. The investigators would get enough evidence to submit the charge sheet accordingly. Then the trial will be conducted and the judge can see this report, if he wants.
Wrong Information at the Very Beginning
The report said Sinha and his assistant Sifat went to ‘Tuinyar Pahar’ in Marishbunia to film 'time lapse’ video. Several local people, seeing lights on the hill, suspected robbers.
Inspector Liaqat Ali told the investigation committee that Nurul Amin, secretary of community policing in Marishbunia village, phoned him to say that robbers were roaming on the hill with small lights. Liaqat was returning from an anti-drug drive. Nurul Amin again phoned him and said that people in army attire opened fire at the villagers and were driving towards Cox’s Bazar in a silver car. Nurul Amin also said the same to the committee. The investigation committee talked to 35 police members of Baharchhara investigation centre but none of them were aware of this. This exchange was only between Liaqat and Nurul Amin.
The report said Liaqat did not inform anyone, including the OC or any other high officials, about the matter. He did not phone the UP member, chairman or any other local people to verify the information. He did not inform any colleague either. Liaqat told the committee that he did not have time to verify the information.
When the announcement was made over loudspeaker of Marishbunia mosque about the robbers, the mosque Imam Zahir Alam asked them to stop. He said that those were army persons. He met them while they were going to the hill.
The report said further investigation was required to determine whether the calls to Liaqat were out of the fear of robbers or for any other reason.
Liaqat Alone Took the Decision
After coming down from the hill, retired major Sinha was intercepted at a BGB check post. After hearing his identity, the BGB members saluted him. The Shamlapur check post, where he was shot dead, was six kilometres away from there. There is an army check post just 1-1.5 kilometres away from that check post. The APBn members told the committee that Liaqat did not say anything at the check post. He just phoned the check post’s sub-inspector Shahjahan. Besides, he had a team of police with him when he got the information of the robbers over phone. But he decided to conduct the drive alone without informing anything to anyone. The committee said Liaqat's actions were unprofessional, rash, mysterious and questionable.
The Positions of Sinha’s Hands
The investigation report said constable Rajib signalled Sinha to stop when his car arrived at the check post. Sinha stopped the vehicle, rolled down the car window and identified himself. SI Shahjahan stepped aside and the vehicle started moving again. Then Liaqat appeared at the spot, put a barricade in place, aimed the pistol and asked Sinha to get out of the car.
Sinha’s associate Sifat told the committee that he got out of the car when Sinha asked him to. He saw Sinha touching the pistol between the two seats in the car but did not see what happened when getting out.
Different policemen gave different accounts to the committee about Sinha’s getting out of the car. SI Shahjahan said he did not see Sinha when he was getting out of the car. He saw him standing and saw that he did not aim any gun. Constable Rajib said one hand of Sinha was up and the other one down. Constable Abdullah said he did not see Sinha aiming any gun. His pistol was in the holster. Liaqat shot him when he tried to draw his gun from the holster. SI Nandadulal Rakshit told the committee that Liaqat placed the barricade and stood in front of the car aiming the gun. Liaqat then shouted "shoot, shoot!" and fired.
The investigation committee asked Nandadulal how Sinha got out of the car. He said, “I didn’t notice that.” He, however, wrote in the FIR of the case filed with Teknaf police station that Liaqat shot Sinha when he tried to draw his gun after getting out of the car.
On the other hand, Liaqat told the committee, “Sinha got out of the car agitated and fired at me.” But at the interrogation of the committee, Liaqat then said Sinha first placed his right hand at his hip, then aimed and fired.
The committee, in the report, stated everyone said Sinha had raised his left hand but there was a confusion over the position of his right hand. Different people recounted the incident differently.
It also recommended constitution of a neutral investigation agency under the home ministry where experienced people from different cadre services could carry out duties on deputation. The report mentioned that police representative in the committee additional IGP Zakir Hossain Khan did not agree with this point
Based on what the other witnesses said, the committee thinks Sinha was shot to be killed. The physician who did the autopsy, told the committee that all the shots except one were fired from very close range.
The committee asked Liaqat how many bullets were required for self-defence? Liaqat said he did not have time to count at that time.
The committee thinks if the information was at first verified, if the higher authorities were informed before taking action and if necessary security measures were taken, the shooting could have been avoided. Liaqat could have taken the help of BGB and the army. The committee think the firing was the outcome of "unprofessionalism, extreme lack of coordination and tendency to hijack credit”.
OC Pradeep Says Something Else
OC Pradeep Kumar Das phoned Cox’s Bazar police superintendent ABM Masud Hossain regarding the firing. Pradeep recounted the incident to him saying that he ordered Liaqat to shoot at Sinha. That phone conversation went viral on social media. But he told the investigation committee that he neither asked Liaqat to shoot at Sinha nor did Liaqat tell him that he shot Sinha. Liaqat told the committee that there is a record of what he said.
Saiful Afsar, the driver of the truck used to carry Sinha to the hospital, told the committee that constable Mamun kept two packets inside Sinha 's car when Pradeep reached the spot. He saw this through the looking glass of the truck. A witness, Sarwar Kamal, said constable Mamun bought the cannabis at Tk 200 from the shop of a certain Babul at Lama market.
OC Pradeep fabricated the case filed against Sinha and Sifat after the incident. Nandadulal, plaintiff of the lawsuit, told the committee that “OC sir said to file the case after consulting someone.”
Pradeep reached the spot after around 20-25 minutes of the shooting. No step was taken to send Sinha hospital before that. Sinha was placed on the truck after 22 minutes of the arrival of Pradeep. The committee said Sinha died without any treatment because of the delay in taking him to hospital. Again, cases were filed accusing the deceased. The committee thinks this was a repetition of many other incidents that take place in Teknaf.
The Committee’s Views on Gunfight
The investigation committee said such an insensitivity had grown in Liaqat because of excessive firing by various forces in Teknaf in recent times. They fire on the excuse of self-defence though they do not have clear conception of the laws regarding self-defence. Verifying the incidents of firing, the committee found out that there was no executive investigation of the most of the incidents. The committee doubted whether all the police laws were properly followed in some of the investigations that were done.
It also said that an individual became all powerful through the misuse of laws. Liaqat’s firing is the result of that. Mentioning the reign of terror in the area, the committee said a microbus driver, who works for police on hire, Didar Ali said people of Teknaf ‘pee in fear’ when they hear of police.
Pradeep Used Personal Gun for ‘Gunfights’
Suspended Teknaf police station OC Pradeep Kumar Das told the committee that in most of the cases of gunfights, he used his own gun. The committee members asked him, “Did you lead all the incidents of 106 gunfights that killed 174 people during your time in Teknaf?” Pradeep said most of the incidents were under his leadership.
The committee asked him, “How many times did you fire, which gun did you use?” Pradeep said, he fired for 20-30 times, using his personal gun.
Pradeep told the committee that he has a Walther pistol worth Tk 700,000. He said, “I find that comfortable.” He also told the committee that he used to file GDs (general diaries) for the bullets he used.
Regarding a question on inspector Liaqat, Pradeep said, “Liaqat bypasses his immediate superior. He calls the SP (superintendent of police) without informing me.”
There is a huge photograph of Pradeep on the wall of Teknaf police station. The investigation committee questioned the magnitude of arrogance for a government employee to have his photograph on the wall (of state property)! He would also contact foreign embassies in breach laws and codes of conduct, and phoned superior officials ignoring protocol. The committee thought all this was because of his boundless arrogance.
The committee has made 13 recommendations to prevent the repetition of incidents like that of Sinha murder. Significant among these is, to issue effective guidance about laws regarding self-defence so that there could be no misuse of this. Investigation is necessary into incidents of using personal arms instead official weapons while on duty. The roles of Liaqat and his supervisors in the executive investigation of the incident must be examined. The superiors need to be conscious about the incident of Sinha murder. CCTV cameras should be installed at check posts and cameras at the chest of persons on duty. And investigations should be carried out while stationing the OCs in the same district and constituting their forces.
The committee also recommended for departmental action against Pradeep and others. It also recommended constitution of a neutral investigation agency under the home ministry where experienced people from different cadre services could carry out duties on deputation. The report mentioned that police representative in the committee additional deputy IGP Zakir Hossain Khan did not agree with this point.
Regarding this, former IGP and current MP from ruling Awami League Noor Mohammad told Prothom Alo that it is astonishing how one after another incidents of this kind has happened in Cox’s Bazar. Even if one or two persons did all this in their own interests, was there no supervision? Did they leave everything in the hands of the criminals? They should have stood by the people. Where would people go, if the responsible persons of the government do not ensure their rights?
* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza